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About Stephen

I am an airport planner, and my specialty is small airport design and improvement. Safe operations in the vicinity of uncontrolled airports, and on the ground, are at the top of my list.

In late October 2010 an associate, a tradesman, looked at the remodel project I was just finishing. He’d been sporadically watching the work progress from the beginning -- during demolition and the careful rebuild in a small precious space -- always looking at the CAD drawings that were taped up here and there for guidance and for the morale of my client. On this day I was polishing up the bright-work when he came by. Something had changed for him in the final coming-together of materials, ideas and the various detailed illustrations. His eyes widened as he looked around at how the teak, porcelain, travertine, marble and frameless glass had landed, complementing each other, and never in conflict. He said “Nobody does work like this.”
Colby Helton, Allegiance Air

In 2005 I was instrumental in the negotiations, design, rebuilding, re-licensing and restoration of the severely damaged Santa Paula Airport following catastrophic storm and flood damage; and later securing the only FAA grant issued to a privately-owned airport in exchange for relinquishing non-aviation development rights. Read the story

Since then, continuing my lifelong fascination with small airports, I prepared submittals & secured approvals from CalTrans and FAA for several projects:

  • the proposed 37 Aviators Air Park at Santa Paula Airport that included: site-planning, through the fence operational safety, optimization of real estate, airspace studies and architectural detailing;
  • a clean-sheet heliport on the California coast in Ventura County;
  • Airport Layout Plans of record for Santa Paula & Kelso Valley airports;
  • a windmill vs airport safety study for Kelso Valley Airport, CN37;

I am currently working on a nationwide safety project, that promises safer operations at uncontrolled airports.

As a boy I was fascinated by how things work, and still very young when I began to see that most could function far more effectively than they generally do. In my early teens, I was able to work summers in construction and design detailing as the son of a partner in the firm, and soon became a legend for thoroughness, attention to detail. At 19 I was fired from a factory job for doing things too quickly and well (it made others look bad, the union agent told me.) As an Air Force recruit, my test scores were so far above the curve that I was asked to re-design mechanics' training (trainee scores improved ± 50% from the 65 to 95 percentile in six months.)

Puzzles and challenging arrangements of ideas, needs, features and functionality are simply irresistible to me – the harder the better. I have designed houses on 'unbuildable' lots, found solutions to structures that engineers said would not work, constructed 'sincere' rock formations and waterfalls – one for the LA County Discoveries of La Brea Museum in 1976. At unveiling, the very serious industrialist and donor of the Museum told me "if I would have known this would turn out as it has I would have paid you twice as much for it."

As an enterprise partner, I boosted revenues 800% by improving training, employee relations, caliber of work and internal functioning. During that time, I designed a process and then built the innovative central feature at the $90Million Scottsdale Princess Hotel in 1987, followed by monumental rock formations on two golf courses in Japan in 1988-89; the Landscape architect at the first site said -- after watching the work closely for 6 months, start to finish -- "I have no idea how you did this." In between, I have designed and delivered numerous other solutions while assuring customers received more than they expected.

Still it was another decade of puzzling and resolving before I knew to call myself, 'Designer'.

I relish the chance to make a site plan, small airfield, crew quarters or any prototype more efficient and functional, or a piece of real estate more useful and beautiful: all resource better utilized. Massive quantities of information and detail – viewed with curiosity, thoroughly – are often required to achieve an elegant solution. Six decades of that kind of inquiry in many domains enable me to approach any puzzle with confidence. And finally to see, fully, that while I am a curious generalist as a learner, design is my specialty, my discipline, and my practice.

Elegance is not a dispensable luxury but a factor that decides between success and failure.
Edsger Dijkstra